Rough-Tooth Signature Whistle Research

Rough-Tooth Signature Whistle Research

Individualized call types, such as signature whistles, are extremely rare and have been found in humans, dolphins, and some parrot species. These species are also capable of vocal production learning meaning that their communication system is not innate. They must learn how to produce sounds and use them in the correct context, just like humans. Currently, we don’t know really know how complex dolphin communication systems really are, what the majority of dolphin calls mean, or if some species have more complex communication systems than others but studies involving signature whistles have been promising.

Signature whistles were first discovered in captive bottlenose dolphins (Caldwell & Caldwell, 1965) and were later identified in six other dolphin species (Herzing, 1996; Janik & Sayigh, 2013). Once a new species is confirmed to have signature whistles further studies can be done to determine how they use signature whistles in specific contexts. Currently, our knowledge of dolphin communication has come primarily from bottlenose dolphins. If signature whistles are confirmed in rough-tooth dolphins this could provide researchers with an alternate species of comparison for broadening our knowledge of dolphin communication.

We will be conducting recordings from six rough-tooth dolphins in order to determine if rough-tooth dolphins emit a predominant, stereotyped, individualized whistle type when they are isolated from other group members. A large portion of the funding for this project will go toward the purchase of equipment which can be used for subsequent rough-tooth dolphin communication studies that are planned.

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“The thing I like about scientific discovery is that you can truly change the world by uncovering the unknown.”
― Steven Magee


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